The Simplicity of Adolescent Behavior

23 Oct

While listening to the radio the other day, I heard an expert in pre-teen and teen behavior explain to the listening audience what goes on in the minds of adolescents as they are pushing our buttons and being obstinate, obnoxious, rude or disrespectful. She was relaying what she routinely articulates to kids and their parents when they come to see her as an adolescent psychologist. Her explanation went on for five or six minutes. That’s a long time on the radio. I’m betting it would feel like a lifetime to a kid sitting in her office, because it occurred to me, that no one could process all those fancy words and complex concepts in such a short time.

I not only felt really badly for her patients, but I wondered if I had been giving my own son, Ben, himself a button-pushing 12 year old enough reassurance that I really do ‘get it’ – meaning I empathize with his growing pains and more importantly, his behavior and thoughts are typical for kids his age . I couldn’t wait to pick him up from school to let him know just how much I understand his snarky, 7th grade behaviors.

I got a bit derailed when he got into the car and rambled past my “Hi Sweetie – how was your day?” to lashing out at me about any number of things that didn’t exactly fit (too much homework, too stressed to go to piano, too tired to do anything (except, it seemed, to post senseless photos on Instagram and text the people he spent the entire day with).

So, I looked over at my son, interrupted his little rant and basically told him that I realize it’s hard being 12. It’s hard being in Middle School. (It’s also fun being 12 and in middle school….and that’s how it is when you want to be autonomous and adult-like, but aren’t sure you want to give up being a little bitty kid.) I also assured him that it is actually his job and responsibility to test his dad and me, push our buttons and sometimes drive us crazy. That’s it – no long lecture, no sarcasm or condescending tone. Just plain, short and clear: You, my son, and every other adolescent out there, are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

It’s so important that we understand and REMEMBER where we were at any given age (refer back to my Guiding Principles in the ‘About Me’ category). Some time back, I learned that kids are okay if you say no to them, if you first tell them you’ll think it over and maybe even discuss it with them or your spouse. They just want to know you’re listening and you remember. They don’t want to be shut down. So, it’s really not that hard to pretend to be thinking it over. And at some point, it may well be that you are actually debating your answer in your own head. Whatever, you are validating that they are not only important enough to think about, but that they just might have a point or an idea worth buying into.

Ben and I still have our differences and challenges. But, sometimes after a particularly challenging moment, he will remind me that I told him I ‘get it’. And I smile at him (knowing he is trying to get out of being disciplined for whatever wrong I’d like to right)….and re-assure him that indeed, I do.

Warm Regards,


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